1000’s flee houses exterior Athens as warmth fuels forest fires | Leisure information
By MICHAEL VARAKLAS and NICHOLAS PAPHITIS, Associated Press
TATOI, Greece (dpa) – More than 500 firefighters fought well into the night on Tuesday to contain a large forest fire on the outskirts of Athens that raced into residential areas and forced thousands to flee. It was the worst of 81 forest fires to break out in Greece in the past 24 hours, amid one of the country’s worst heat waves in decades.
The chief of civil protection, Nikos Hardalias, said the fire north of Athens was “very dangerous” and had been exacerbated by high winds and scale-dry conditions due to the heat.
No serious injuries were reported and authorities said several buildings had been damaged.
“We continue to fight hour after hour, saving lives is our top priority,” said Hardalias. “We’ll do this all night.”
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“These are crucial hours,” said Hardalias. “Our country is experiencing one of the worst heat waves in 40 years.”
The fire sent a huge cloud of smoke over Athens, resulting in several evacuations near Tatoi, 20 kilometers (12 1/2 miles) north, and forcing the partial closure of Greece’s main north-south highway. Residents left their homes in cars and motorbikes, often clutching their pets, and headed for the capital amid a cloud of smoke.
As the flames neared their homes, local residents ran to their cars, their faces covered with damp cloths to protect them from the heavy smoke. A group stopped to help riding school employees push their horses into trucks to escape the flames.
The fire brigade went door to door to make sure evacuation orders were carried out. Authorities said no one was listed as missing and Greek media said six people were in need of treatment for mild breathing difficulties.
As the heat wave intensified in the eastern Mediterranean, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius in parts of the Greek capital. The extreme weather has sparked deadly forest fires in Turkey and fires in Italy, Greece, Albania and across the region.
Hardalias said the temperature reached a maximum of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Tatoi area.
In other parts of Greece, forest fires raged, which led to the evacuation of villages in Mani and Vassilitsa in the southern Peloponnese and on the islands of Evia and Kos, the authorities said. A total of 40 fires raged on late Tuesday.
The fires prompted Greek basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo to cancel the celebrations planned in Athens for the NBA championship he recently won with the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We hope that there are no victims of these fires and of course we will postpone today’s celebration,” wrote Antetokounmpo in a tweet.
The authorities had previously closed the Acropolis and other ancient sites during the afternoon hours. The location, which is normally open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer, has reduced opening times until Friday and closes between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The extreme heat, dubbed by the authorities as the worst in Greece since 1987, has strained the national electricity supply and fueled the forest fires.
The national grid operator said the power supply to part of the capital was “at risk” after part of the transmission network that was damaged and threatened by the fires was shut down.
Five water cannons and five helicopters were involved in the fire fighting near Athens, including a Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft leased by Russia. For security reasons, they shut down after dark.
The fire damaged power poles and put additional strain on the power grid, which is already under pressure due to the widespread use of air conditioning.
The Greek fire brigade held alarms for most of the country for Tuesday and Wednesday, while public and some private services postponed operating hours to allow afternoon closings.
Hardalias appealed to the public to be vigilant.
“As the heat wave will continue in the coming days, please avoid any activity that could start a fire,” he said.
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Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this.
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